Consumers receiving "dismal" treatment

7 April 2009

The number of people suffering dismal treatment by financial businesses is growing, with credit-crunched firms increasingly brushing off customer complaints.

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), an independent body that deals with disputes between consumers and financial firms, has reported a rise in cases where treatment of customers by financial businesses is “nothing short of dismal”.

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman at FOS, warns that while many businesses handle customer complaints seriously, others are less inclined to make any real effort to help resolve disputes. “The way some businesses are handling these complaints suggests that a weary cynicism is setting in,” he says.

“Some in the financial services industry – currently facing significant business challenges – appear to be taking the jaundiced view that having a large number of complaining customers is just an unfortunate fact of life. So they seem to be geared up simply to dispose of complaints at minimum cost – and with minimal attention to the individual facts and circumstances.”

Merricks says this sort of treatment has left people with little option but to turn to the FOS for help. Inevitably, these consumers feel let down by the financial institutions they have dealt with, he adds.

Poor complaints-handling is also putting people off pursuing issues further; research by FOS suggests that nearly 50% of people who are unable to resolve their complaints directly with the firm involved end up dropping the issue.

“In the current climate, high standards of customer service may not seem the top priority to businesses battening down the hatches,” says Merrick. “But when markets pick up and these same businesses look to attract new customers, they may well discover that consumers have long memories of how well – or otherwise – they were treated in the past.”

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